Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Earmarks, Ron Paul, and Cognitive Dissonance

All of the tubes of the internet are abuzz with a speech that Ron Paul made Tuesday, calling for more earmarks. Despite the fact that I actively supported Ron Paul's campaign for President and am supporting the Campaign for Liberty, I can't support this. Let me go through Dr. Paul's claims:

1. Earmarks are a tiny part of the overall budget. - Agree completely.
2. Cutting earmarks out doesn't take away from the budget. - Mostly true, but it ignores future costs. If you request $750,000 for Houston Memorial Hermann HealthCare system for Life Flight operations center in an earmark, odds are that is going to have ongoing costs. And as we know from New Orleans, if the Federal Government builds it, everyone expects the Federal Government to maintain it.
3. Earmarks add transparency to the budget. - Not true at all anymore. Since the Coburn-Obama Act in 2006, every dollar spent by the government is tracked at (Yes, I know that the bank bailouts aren't being tracked here. I think that's illegal based off this act, and I'm pretty sure that's the only off-the-record spending.)
4. Earmarking is a responsibility of Congress. - Not in any historical sense, and not Constitutionally. Since the beginning of the Republic, the Congress set the budget for the executive departments, gave them laws, and let them spend the money to execute those laws. More importantly, most earmarks, such as $25,000 to install security cameras at Fox Run Apartments in Victoria, are for specific welfare, and not general welfare as required by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution.
5. What's considered an earmark is confusing - An earmark is a line item in a budget that directs Federal funds to a specific project. That's not really confusing to me. Dr. Paul's example of a weapons system would be an earmark if picked by Congress, and not an earmark if picked by the Pentagon.
6. The Federal Reserve is worse than all earmarks, and should be audited - Agree completely.

The fact is that earmarks allow all sorts of things to be passed that would never stand on their own. Congressmen get to add things for their district, as long as they vote for things in other districts. It's an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you'll-scratch-mine system that is rotten to the core. The fact is that as bad as bureaucracies are, they have laws that direct them in how they spend their money, and they have bid processes that get rid of some of the waste. Congress is making up the laws about spending as they go, and they may or may not have a good bid process.

Now I really don't have that much of a problem that Dr. Paul requested the earmarks. If he had said, "The people of the 14th district of Texas pay a lot of taxes, they've been devastated by a hurricane, and I'm going to make sure that some of their tax dollars come back to help rebuild," I wouldn't have a problem with it. But he defended the corrupt earmark system, and that's where he loses me.

Here's a solution for Dr. Paul: The one-subject-at-a-time rule. Congress has operated under this rule before. The concept is this: Spending must be passed on a by-department basis. No omnibuses. You can't fund National Park bathrooms in a Highway Administration bill. I know Dr. Paul's friend John Culberson supports this. Dr. Paul needs to get on board as well.


DaveS said...

The part that bugs me the most about Paul's stand is that he claims all these various programs are un-Constitutional (with which I tend to agree), but then he works to make sure that these programs are maintained by inserting them as earmarks. Basically, he's saying that un-Constitutional programs are OK, just so long as the money is spent in his Congressional district. The fact that he votes against the final bill is meaningless; he has worked to ensure the outcome.

Wesley said...

Dave, I agree. That's what I meant by the congnitive dissonance in the title, but I don't think I made it clear in the post. Honestly, I think Dr. Paul is a really honorable man, and this bothers me a little about it.

Somewhat interestingly, the captcha for this response is "ubriPORK".